Goh Ge Xuan is currently studying Chemistry at UCL. Gege completed her A-Levels at Kolej Tuanku Ja’afar and will be graduating in 2022. This personal statement was part of her successful application to UCL, University of Bristol, University of Manchester and University of Nottingham for Chemistry.
Chemistry is an immense and incredible subject as it is a crucial link to many of man’s endeavours. From reaction kinetics to industrial manufacturing, its diversity and potential for discovery intrigues me greatly.
Among the topics studied, organic chemistry has always been my favourite. From isomerism to electrophoresis, I am always in awe of the boundless permutations arising from the making and mixing of organic compounds. My experience in LIYSF, which entailed a visit to the GSK Carbon Neutral Laboratory at the University of Nottingham, consolidated my interest in this field. Here, I was exposed to the process of amine synthesis, which is important for synthesis organic chemists, with reductive amination being one of the most versatile methods used in synthesising structurally diverse amines. It is a process where an aldehyde or ketone reacts with an amine to form an imine, which is then reduced by hydrogenation. During my time in LIYSF, I carried out an experiment on this where ortho-vanillin 1 is reacted with para-toluidine 2 to generate an imine. The imine is then reduced with sodium borohydride to an intermediate that is then acetylated to produce an amide. I was able to identify my product using infrared and NMR spectroscopy. Using analytical machinery on compounds that I produced brought what had been taught in theory into practice. My desire for more of these moments is what drives me to study Chemistry at a higher level.
The sheer complexity of organic chemistry also brings to mind my love for cosmetics. Just as the lipsticks we use are as elaborate as they are functional and beautiful, the ubiquity of both fields in our daily lives fascinate me deeply. For millennia, cosmetics have been an integral part of culture, from displays of national pride, to camouflage for hunting, and most importantly to augment our features to adorn ourselves. However, through the ages, the lack of understanding in the manufacture and use of cosmetics has led to drawbacks such as skin cancer, blindness and death. Lead, for example, has found its way throughout history onto our faces, despite its toxicity. In ancient Egypt, black kohl was a key components for eye makeup. Made of galena which was lead sulfide, it was widely used by the Egyptians for lining the perimeter of eyes to reduce glare and to act as a disinfectant, but it was poisonous especially when inhaled. It took Eugene Rimmel, a brilliant cosmetics innovator, to establish a revolution in the industry by inventing the first commercial non-toxic mascara using a mix of coal dust and petroleum jelly, a semi-solid mixture of hydrocarbons that functions as a grooming aid. As the new product was non-toxic, it became popular and ushered in an era of safe commercial cosmetics.
At present, the use of nanotechnology has amplified in many streams of science, from electronics to medicine, and the cosmetics industry is no exception. Taking the name of nanocosmetics, the enhanced physical properties attained by nanoparticles allows for more effective cosmetics. Common nanomaterials employed in personal care products are liposomes and nanocapsules. However, there are many concerns about their effects on humans. Like lead, nanocosmetics promised great results, but feigning ignorance can and will harm us. Researchers at the University of Tennessee have found that sunscreens using nanoparticles generated by ivies were more effective in blocking UV rays than titanium dioxide. Moreover, it is suggested that ivy particles were not toxic to human cells as they could be digested by protease and is likely to be biodegradable. Inspired, I wish to take this opportunity to apply organic chemistry and nanotechnology to bring about a new revolution in healthy nanocosmetics.
In our quest to be beautiful, science should not be ignored but embraced. Studying Chemistry would not only allow me to merge my passions, but also to augment both fields and take personal care and chemistry to new heights.
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